Elite: Dangerous shipped version 1.6 and 2.1 last night and a massive update it was.
Following the launch (and a fair bit during the BETA as well) there have been complaints about changes to the A.I.
What’s that? Well, if you are not a ED forum regular or don’t know what I mean, what we refer to as the NPCs or A.I. are the Non Player Characters in the game – the spaceships you fight that are not other players and the A.I. being the combat logic program that controls them. Much of this written by Sarah Jane Avory at Frontier, who has been christened the “Mistress of Minions” by the community. She takes great delight in the achievements of her “children”.
Now to the controversy; one camp is complaining that the A.I is now impossible to beat. That all the NPCs use all the Horizons Engineer upgrades. That the NPCs don’t follow the same rules as players, such as having infinite ammo and being immune to heat build-up.
The other camp, is saying that the NPCs were harder in the first BETA of 2.1 and have been “dumbed down” because of complaining from players who just can’t hack combat. Their argument, is that the game is called Elite: Dangerous and combat should be life and death. Not a stroll in park picking daisies. Their response has been the phrase “GIT GUD” meaning learn to fight.
There’s also the group who are in the “goldilocks zone” who think Frontier have got it just right. They are currently the majority.
Where lies the truth of the matter?
The NPC behaviour was different in the first BETA of 2.1 and it did make it harder, because the moment a ship lost its shields, the NPC would flee beyond your range and return when their shields were back up. This might have been harder, but was it better? It made combat take a LOT longer, but it wasn’t very intense as a result. So Frontier changed that and NPCs don’t flee like that now.
Do NPCs use infinite ammo? Are they cheating? I’ve seen no evidence of this.
I asked Zac at Frontier:-
Does the AI cheat?
No, the AI ships work in the same way as any other ships. Anything an AI can do a Commander can do (with exception of one small point noted below in Q3… )
Do ALL NPCs have access to Engineer Mods?
No, NPCs of a higher rank, much like Commanders of a higher rank, will have explored and done far more in our vast Galaxy than lower ranked NPCs. The higher the rank, the more likely you are to see Engineers upgrades
Do NPCs have unlimited ammo?
No. HOWEVER, they do have unlimited multi-cannon ammo. This is a deliberate decision and is designed as such because the multi-cannon fire is made to miss far more and generally to improve the combat experience.
Are NPCs immune to heat build-up?
No, in fact there have been some interesting times when NPCs have blown themselves up from heat build-up. This is a common misconception but NPCs do definitely suffer from heat.
So the claims of cheating don’t really hold up to scrutiny. What I have observed, is that NPCs are vastly different to fight, depending on their rank and the likelihood of meeting high-ranked NPCs increases with your rank.
Harmless, Mostly Harmless, Novice, Competent, Expert, Master, Dangerous, Deadly, Elite.
You now need to check what the NPCs rank is, before biting off more than you can chew. I could swat a wing of three competent Eagles, but a Deadly Dropship took all I had to stay alive.
Whatever camp you are in, the days of NPCs barrel-rolling in a stationary position while you kill them is over. The minions are fighting back!